There is something about "hard times" that brings out humanity’s most practical, serious best. When you strip back the label-loving disposable income and people begin to worry more about their families’ basic survival than appearances, a surprising amount of scrappy self-sufficiency often lies beneath.

And in truly tight times, we don’t just cut back expenses in one area; plenty of Americans are having to make wholesale revisions in many areas of their lives to make ends meet these days.

This is true for no segment of society more than for retirement-aged Americans. While many Americans have taken a financial bath over the past few years, those who were near retirement often had the most equity in their homes and investment portfolios to lose, and the least time to recover.

Book Review
Title: "The Hard Times Guide to Retirement Security: Practical Strategies for Money, Work and Living"
Author: Mark Miller
Publisher: Bloomberg Press/Wiley, 2010; 223 pages; $16.95

There is something about "hard times" that brings out humanity’s most practical, serious best. When you strip back the label-loving disposable income and people begin to worry more about their families’ basic survival than appearances, a surprising amount of scrappy self-sufficiency often lies beneath.

And in truly tight times, we don’t just cut back expenses in one area; plenty of Americans are having to make wholesale revisions in many areas of their lives to make ends meet these days.

This is true for no segment of society more than for retirement-aged Americans. While many Americans have taken a financial bath over the past few years, those who were near retirement often had the most equity in their homes and investment portfolios to lose, and the least time to recover.

As a result, many have had to make major shifts, downsizing their lifestyles or tacking on years to their working lives — changes that inspired both the name and the content of syndicated columnist Mark Miller’s blog, RetirementRevised.com.

The vast range of life and financial changes retirees-to-be are being forced to make in this economy also inspired Miller’s new book, "The Hard Times Guide to Retirement Security: Practical Strategies for Money, Work and Living."

Miller’s vision for "The Hard Times Guide to Retirement Security" was to support readers’ wide array of retirement revisions with "a survey of the best thinking on a wide array of subjects — everything from Social Security and pensions to heath care, 50-plus careers, entrepreneurship and volunteering."

And that’s precisely what the book delivers: a detailed yet wide-ranging lifestyle handbook for baby boomers who may be floundering in the aftermath of their retirement plans and funds being obliterated.

After briefing readers in the first chapter on what he means by "Rethinking retirement," piquing readers’ interest by introducing them to the powerful post-recession shifts in traditional approaches to retirement money, work and living that comprise the meat of the rest of the book, Miller moves right into the first part of the book: money.

Chapter 2, "The Great Wake-Up Call," documents the seriousness about retirement and money management that the Great Recession injected into Americans approaching retirement, and offers some very handy links to free tools for getting a basic sense for what you need to save before retiring.

The next several chapters each focus on a various retirement income source, investment vehicle or personal financial challenge, from Social Security, pensions, annuities and 401(k)s to health care, taxes and real estate.

Retirement-minded homeowners will find the real estate chapter especially useful; Miller addresses how to approach recent declines in equity, advises readers to consider the revolutionary strategy of paying their mortgage off during their work years, briefs readers on their retirement housing options vis-à-vis their changing physical and medical needs and abilities, and covers the pros and cons of reverse mortgages before, as at the end of every chapter in the book, offering a detailed, helpful list of links to related online resources.

Probably the most outside-the-box section of the book is the one devoted to working. Most people think that work and retirement are mutually exclusive, by definition. Miller begs to differ and offers new thought and strategies on the matter.

First, Miller educates readers on how to understand the powerful boost they can add to the sustainability of their retirement funds by delaying retirement, and by working or running their own business in retirement; then he coaches them on navigating the job market at age 50-plus and how to successfully launch a "lifestyle business."

Finally, Miller gets right to the core of the true endgame of every retiree: living. He specifically focuses on what he calls "encore careers" that help retirees go beyond contributing cash to their family fisc, to contribute their meaningful offerings to the greater community, like teaching and careers in health care, government and the green industries.

Miller also devotes some space to volunteer work and nonprofit careers, before delving into a multitude of suggestions as to how retirees can continue lifelong learning and "brain fitness": from traveling to languages to novel-writing.

All told, Miller offers a very readable, actionable and holistic framework that offers both hope and strategy to Americans who are wondering how in the heck they are going to ever retire after the bath they’ve taken in the market.

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